IGN Review of Drawn to Life
When it all boils down there really aren't that many games out there that can only be done on Nintendo DS. Sure, you get the few titles a year that truly make use of the system to its fullest, and casual titles such as Picross and Sudoku are made better with dual screen and touch, but seldom do we stumble upon a product that can exist only on Nintendo's handheld. In the case of Drawn to Life, it may not be the best overall product you'll find on store shelves this year, but it will capture the hearts of younger gamers for one very specific reason; it's a true DS title.
For those unfamiliar with Drawn to Life the design is simple. You take the part of "The Creator," an out-of-world, god-like being to a species known as the Raposa. The game opens by telling an interactive story about your initial creation of the world, starting with the planet, the trees, and creatures, all the while getting you familiar with the main concept in Drawn to Life: User-created content. Whether its drawing in the "book of life" to supply the Raposa with sunshine, moonlight, rain, or snow, or crafting your own hero to battle the forces of darkness and reclaim a now-corrupt world you'll be taking the role of an all-powerful, stylus-wielding deity who not only battles darkness, but creates life.
What you'll find early on with Drawn to Life is that the game is more focused on the creation aspects than the core platforming gameplay. To fairly describe the overall experience we'd say Drawn to Life is actually made of three pieces; creation, overworld play, and side-scrolling platforming. You'll quickly find that, while still fairly balanced on a global scale, the game's emphasis is most certainly on drawing, and less on the gameplay itself.
That being said, the creation process is certainly one heck of an accomplishment. Not only will you draw doodles in the Book of Life or create a hero using an assortment of colors, brushes, patterns, and stamps, but you'll also be called to create world objects on the fly, dreaming up in-level aids and obstacles to be used just seconds later once you exit the impressively intuitive and in-depth creation tool. Some of these objects are as simple as stationary or moving platforms, while others act as weapons, or even vehicles that are piloted manually. If you've got younger gamers in the family, or are just as happy creating and experimenting as you are with full-blown platforming Drawn to Life certainly has you covered.
Even more impressive than the simple creation aspect of the game, however, is the way your drawings come to life. All drawings are handled with programmatic animation, manipulating and moving certain regions of your canvas to run, jump, butt-stomp, attack, or even stretch and flex given then situation. This alone is a pretty impressive technical feat, and it seems that every new creation brings about another innovative means of moving that creation. Team that with some very impressive 2D animation and an overall style that rivals games like Super Princess Peach and you've got what seems to be a total package in Drawn to Life; at least on the presentation side.
Where the game drops off a bit, however, is in the core gameplay. As we mentioned Drawn to Life is essentially 1/3 creation, with overworld gameplay (very similar to the town system in Rocket Slime) and traditional sidescrolling making up the other portion. The problem here is that it's just too basic though, and even for a game geared specifically to children we found that there was nothing outside of the general art and style that really put Drawn to Life ahead of anything else we've played.
The overworld will have players doing simple, quick fetch-quests while interacting with rescued NPCs, while the sidescrolling levels make use of all-too familiar gameplay found in literally any other hop-n-bop out there. You'll run from left to right, avoid pits, jump on enemies, butt-stop through crates, eventually grab a ranged weapon and multi-jump, and move from stage to stage rescuing captured Raposas and gathering pieces of the Book of Life. There's a bit more depth added due to the build-it-yourself level pieces and a few simple additions such as hang gliding, submarine piloting, and space shooting levels, but all in all it's an "insert any license here" feeling, and though we were certainly hooked by the creation side of things we couldn't get over the fact that platforming is just so formulaic. Even when it comes to integrating your drawings into the world it's more of placing art into a template, and less actual world manipulation. You won't, for instance, be drawing platforms directly on the screen or puzzle solving with stylus in-hand. Instead, you'll color in a pre-set platform with your own unique style, and that will fill predetermined spaces on the level. It isn't as deep as it could be, allowing players to fully manipulate the world as they play, but its an impressive first step in what we hope ends up being a long-running franchise.
There's a flipside to that which is worth mentioning though. Drawn to Life is meant to be a kids title, and is a great introductory game for players who may have a Nintendo DS as their first system. Sure it's formulaic and - when compared to others of its kind - uninspired in some of its gameplay elements, but there's nothing broken or unpleasant here, and thus it's still an ideal product for the younger SKU. Yes, Drawn to Life feels like "just another platformer" when you remove the creation aspects or presentation elements, and yes, we've seen this type of design time and time again from THQ in licensed products like SpongeBob or Tak (just to name a few), but that doesn't stop it from being entertaining, and that may certainly be enough for some newcomers to the platforming world. If you've got kids spending a large chunk of time on your DS, this is one of the best options out there, plain and simple.
Going beyond the simple play mechanics and presentation elements Drawn to Life has the definite beginnings of a killer franchise; there's just more room to grow overall. In the creation portion of the game, for instance, players can design their character using pre-made templates. As the game moves on, however, many of the object lack any sort of stencil or pattern, so it becomes more about drawing than it does coloring. This is fine for the somewhat older crowd, and even younger gamers can have fun scribbling in their own creations even if they look a little rough, but the option to always work off pre-made assets would be a great addition for the inevitable - and welcomed - sequel.
Along those same lines players must work within specific bounding boxes for their hero, and there's only one main template to use. The game does, however, include a ton of patterns, color palates, stamps, and abilities that are found by exploring the world and upgrading at the town shop, so there's a decent amount of depth for those seeking it. In the end though we just can't shake the feeling that Drawn to Life is a huge first step, but not a fully-realized adventure throughout.
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